Prussia and the Polish Question
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30

First edition: “Przegląd Powszechny” [“Universal Review”], 1908, Vol. 100, pp. 1–7.




After the victories it had won, Germany under Bismarck got used to being the sole ruler of Europe. Austria, in turn, forgot about its defeats, and only caring for its own safety, it made the defensive Triple Alliance with Germany and Italy – an alliance so powerful that no shot could be fired in the entire world without its permission, and the German Emperor played the main role in this Triple Alliance – he was a helmsman of a mighty ship, if only because constant disagreements were breaking out between Austria and Italy, so that both countries were in fact proper and direct allies of Germany only, while Germany mediated between them – very discreetly and by exerting moral influence only, but still.

Some time ago, a dual Franco-Russian alliance was established to counterweight the Triple Alliance, and for some time it was perceived as a dangerous threat to world peace. In fact, this alliance was another guarantee of peace; contrary to expectations, it only strengthened Germany’s global advantage, preventing France from making a rapprochement with England and suppressing its desire for revenge for the defeats suffered, and also France’s desire to regain the provinces that it had lost. Russia was actually Germany’s best friend: since France guaranteed its territorial integrity, which was anyway not threatened from any side, Russia borrowed billions from it in exchange, became increasingly influential in the Far East and slowly led France along a path where it could forget about its resentment towards Germany and stand at Russia’s side in its fight against England.

Germany, surrounded by such allies and friends, and additionally attractive owing to its victories and might, engaged not only in European but also in global politics. In Constantinople, it replaced the former English or Russian influences with its own and established a kind of protectorate over the Mohammedan nations, which used to be independent before; subsequently, Germany exploited this position in the interests of its trade and future colonisation. It was already Bismarck who encouraged other European nations to acquire ever more overseas possessions, since he believed that being occupied overseas, they would be more willing to put up with Germany’s hegemony in Europe. Germany itself took part in the colonial movement from the outset and participated in what should be termed the partition of Africa, but was initially very restrained and preferred to stimulate French ambitions, wanting France to forget about Sedan and Alsace and welcoming the fierce enmity that was being fuelled between England and France in this way. However, the ambitions of the new empire grew enormously during the reign of Wilhelm II; it started to be said that Germany’s future lay at sea and as a result, Germany came to the forefront in all five parts of the world and developed its trade, shipping and industry using all the means that the German state had at its disposal. Germany also began to openly acknowledge that it intended to squeeze England from its position in the world and even made attempts at forming a grand coalition directed against Britain, which was also supposed to include France. At the time when the English were engaged in heavy fighting against the Boers in South Africa, it was not just Emperor Wilhelm who expressed his sympathy for England’s enemies in his famous telegram to Krüger; the public opinion of almost all nations openly sympathised with the feelings expressed in the telegram and it looked as if Britain’s “splendid isolation” stemmed not only from the fact that it had no allies: it was in fact surrounded exclusively by enemies who were headed by the mighty Germany.

Having ascended to the throne after his mother’s death, the new but no longer young English king decided to put an end to this isolation. He was searching for allies, or at least friends, all over the world, willing to make multiple concessions to other powers in Africa or Asia in exchange for their friendship, and since he was both kind and courteous, and additionally still the ruler of the greatest power in the world with four hundred million subjects, finding the friends that he was looking for did not prove overly difficult. First, he found a faraway ally overseas, making the first alliance with the exotic Japan, and this alliance made him a lot more attractive when the Japanese were soon made illustrious by their glorious victories. Subsequently, King Edward approached France who, having been alarmed by Russia’s defeats, was looking for new allies as well. No formal alliance was made between France and England, but a friendship so close and so cordial was struck that it equalled an alliance. Moreover, the English king became hugely popular in France, and apparently he exerts a very considerable influence on its external policy. Portugal has long been politically dependent on the English, and Spain has been won as well, so a Western alliance has in fact been formed between the three great nations that live on the European shores of the Atlantic Ocean. The friendship with France finally enabled the long-standing traditional antagonism between England and Russia to be appeased and facilitated agreement on Asian affairs, which was crowned by the monarchs’ meeting in Reval. As a result, today France’s official ally maintains good relations with its cordial friend England. Edward VII did not neglect those powers that had entered into the Triple Alliance with Prussia, either. He is seeking Austrian friendship, and with Italy he has even made an agreement on the Mediterranean. Finally, recent developments in Turkey have temporarily restored English predominance on the Golden Horn.

The entire campaign by the king of England is clearly a peaceful one, and its only purpose, which has been fully achieved already anyway, is to end England’s isolation and make its influence on the world’s affairs and on European affairs commensurate with its enormous might, its wealth and its ancient and highly impressive civilisation. However, this campaign has given rise to anxiety and dissatisfaction in Germany, and the English dailies have long ago adopted a tone that is not at all favourable to Germany. England always used to be in opposition to whichever power was the mightiest on the European continent; it always formed coalitions whose purpose was to balance, check and ultimately fight the predominant continental power. The Germans do remember this, and since King Edward’s campaign has already had the effect that Germany’s voice alone does not decide the fate of our part of the world, the mutual irritation between the Germans and the English has become entirely understandable. This irritation has been exacerbated by economic rivalry between the two great nations. Thus whatever is happening in the world right now appears to be an episode in the struggle for hegemony fought between an uncle and his nephew. Diplomatic wrangles are accompanied by huge armaments on land and sea; from time to time, Europe becomes fearful of a great war. However, such a war will not come soon as neither England nor France will start it; Germany, becoming impatient, might perhaps issue a call to fight, but the horror of that war would be so great and its consequences so unpredictable that all other powers are using their diplomatic art to the utmost in order to prevent it.

It is argued that King Edward has so far proved himself more skilful in his diplomatic and peaceful campaign than his nephew. England’s very return to the long-forgotten tradition of unions and alliances has necessarily weakened Germany’s influence, since now it has to contend with the influence of a second power, powerful and undefeated to date. The English game has also been facilitated by the widespread concern about the ambitions that are repeatedly betrayed by various German publications as well as by the conduct of the German government and even of the Emperor himself. In France, the wounds inflicted half a century ago have not healed, and the Germans’ actions in Morocco have resulted in the threat of the mighty neighbour becoming ensconced right next to the Algerian border. Similarly, Spain considers German Morocco to be the most alarming danger. The Russian public opinion suspects Prussia of using its influence to prevent real liberal reforms in Russia; it knows that many in Berlin wish to master the left bank of the Vistula River and the Baltic provinces; it watches German colonists settle in all strategically important points of the former Kingdom of Poland, Lithuania and Volhynia, receiving constant support from Berlin: finally, it knows that England would in any case object to Prussia annexing any new shores while it would be indifferent to Prussian occupation of the Kingdom of Poland if it were not certain of Russian friendship first.

Even Germany’s official allies have good cause for concern. Prussia resonates with rumours that Germany is planning to move its borders all the way to Baghdad and that all the territory in between is to include Prussian fiefs only. This would leave no room for Austria; in fact, the German Empire would encompass Bohemia and Vienna and reach as far as the Adriatic and Italian Alps; Hungary, just like the Balkan statelets, would become merely Germany’s humble satellite, and Austria would pay dearly for the friendship now being extended to its monarchy by Germany. There would be no place for Turkey either. In Prussia, no one considers it a secret that Asia Minor and Mesopotamia are supposed to become German colonies in which millions of German farmers and industrialists will settle.

The Padishah supported these German ambitions and was the Germans’ most obedient ally; in return, Germany protected his despotic rule. Now that the Young Turks have put an end to this despotism, the obvious thing for them to do was to repudiate German friendship and turn to the English instead. For Italy, the idea of a united Germany reaching as far as the Alps is a real nightmare, bringing back memories of former Kaisers who were crowned at Saint Peter’s Basilica. Thus in the eyes of the European public, the English campaign appears to be an effort to build a defensive coalition against the greedy ambitions of the German Empire, and this public opinion has been of the greatest assistance to King Edward.

However, it would be wrong to think that Germany has been defeated and there is no hope for it. In addition to the huge military might and fierce patriotism, even among those Germans who can hardly bear Prussian hegemony, and in addition to the written alliances that protect Germany from any attack, there are still very strong currents within the public opinion that favour Germany and are often of great help to it. The Germans who dominate in Austria and are very influential in the Russian government as well back Prussian policy unreservedly. They support even the boldest intentions of the expansive Prussian government and believe that the German nation has been chosen to rule the world. Even though they neither share nor praise pan-German chauvinism and they are sincere Austrian or Russian patriots, they feel, after all, a certain national unity with the Germans who live in the Reich. Further, monarchists and more generally conservatives in Austria, and to some extent in Russia and in other countries as well, see Prussia today as a bulwark of monarchical order; they envy Prussia its government, which has never bowed to the socialists, and their sympathies for the Prussian alliance are amplified by their antipathy for republican France and by their distrust of England, which has so often supported revolution on the continent in order to achieve its goals. Finally, most Jews around the world speak German at home and feel more affinity with Germany than with any other European nation. These people use their influence to further Germany’s interests, write press articles that promote friendship with Germany and attack those who are considered Prussia’s enemies. Even when at the head of a revolutionary movement, Jews try to steer this movement in the direction that is in line with German interests and ambitions.

The official Berlin uses all its influence to harm Poles. Revolutionaries who are in cahoots with Berlin are trying to provoke us to commit acts that can only bring disaster, and Prussian diplomats are making efforts to draw the attention of European governments to the existence of a Polish institution that seeks to overturn the European order. We are feeling the effect of the Prussian hand that prevents Poles and Russians from getting closer to each other, and we know that the Ukrainians’ hateful feelings towards us are being constantly, and sometimes openly, encouraged from Berlin. Berlin suspects Polish hostility everywhere and keeps denouncing Polish intrigues; it believes that our aim is to destroy Germany, that all Polish lands, whether ruled by Prussia, Austria or Russia, are conspiring against Prussia, that we want a great war and if we only were able to, we would start a huge European conflagration ourselves. These accusations are all too reminiscent of the fable of the wolf and the lamb; the wolf strangled the lamb for muddying his water, although the lamb stood downstream from the wolf. Certainly we have often warned against Prussian ambitions, but it is our duty to do so in countries where, like in Austria, we feel that we are bound to serve the state that has been just to us. However, we are not madmen. Thus we do not intend to start a European war; on the contrary, we are doing everything that we can (which is admittedly not much) to avert such a war.

Were a universal war to break out in Europe in which Russia would assist France while Austria would be on the side of Germany, a most horrible catastrophe would be visited upon us. Such a war would be fought in Polish territories, destroying Polish property, and Polish blood would be shed on both sides with Poles forced to fight other Poles along the entire front. After the war and an unending series of defeats, peace would be made, and we would probably have no influence whatsoever on the treaties’ outcome; all arrangements that concern us would be made without our participation, and any shift in borders, if it took place, could mean a new debacle for us, made even worse by the fact that it would be permanent. If the Triple Alliance were to prevail, Prussia would probably seize part of the former Kingdom of Poland while Austria would annex part of Volhynia and Podolia; otherwise, Russia could incorporate part of Eastern Galicia and perhaps East Prussia in its territories. Indeed, we would never wish for a war and for all the terrible events it brings in order to accelerate changes of this kind.

On the other hand, if diplomacy were to succeed in containing the war, and if it were only fought between Germany as the aggressor on the one side and the Western powers allied with France on the other side, then this war would not concern us and would not have a direct impact on our fate; instead, it would draw lots of blood from the Poles under Prussian rule. In this case, the winner would be difficult to predict. England seems to have the advantage at sea, while on land Germany is stronger, so the outcome of any war would be extremely uncertain. If Prussia emerged victorious, German nationalists who want to eradicate Polish national identity would become even mightier and would no longer balk at any means of extermination. A violent outburst of social passions would certainly threaten the ruin of the vanquished side. Today, German socialists often speak in our defence, but a social revolution in Germany could well deal us blows stronger than any government, and the prosperity of the former Duchy of Posen would certainly hang by a thread in this case. Clearly, no sane Pole hopes for a great European war and no sane Pole would do anything to bring such a war about.




Apart from its rivalry with England, Germany is now preoccupied by serious internal problems. The Reich’s finances are in a bad way – the deficit has reached half a billion marks and the state’s coffers have been depleted by incessant armaments, especially at sea, and the costs of artificially supporting German industry and trade. Simultaneously, the industry and trade are undergoing a severe crisis; all the nation’s wealth has been invested in various enterprises, so there is a shortage of cash in the country and the international importance of the Berlin stock exchange has decreased while extensive protection for farmers has brought about a significant increase in food prices. All this has given rise to considerable discontent all over the land; the Emperor’s too great personal influence on government is being criticised everywhere, and in southern Germany, dissatisfaction with Prussian hegemony is growing. In Prussia itself, the population is demanding universal suffrage in elections to the Landstag. The most dangerous symptom of dissatisfaction has been the constant rise in socialist sentiment; although the exceptionally conservative electoral law prevented the socialists from getting into the Prussian Landstag where the Poles’ fate is usually decided, the number of socialist deputies in the German Reichstag was steadily growing and finally reached a hundred. As a result, in the Reichstag, social democracy became the most powerful party after the Catholic centre, and it owed its advantage not only to the socialist vote, but also to the liberal one cast by Protestant malcontents who were dissatisfied with the excessive submissiveness of so-called bourgeois parties.

In order to head off the growing danger, Chancellor von Bülow made a tactical turn that came as an astonishment to many. For more than twenty years, two parties formed the ruling majority in the German parliament: Prussian conservatives and the Catholic centre; in addition, there was a strongly pro-government national liberal bloc, which was always ready to support the government with its vote. Just before the last election, the Chancellor suddenly disowned the Catholics; moreover, he threw them a challenge. He decided to appeal to the national and Protestant feelings that burn deep in northern German souls and that are opposed to Catholicism; he called upon the Protestants to join his forces in order to fight those who swore their allegiance to Rome. It turned out that he knew his compatriots well. Having unearthed slogans from the Kulturkampf era, he successfully reconciled the two usually incompatible elements both at the time of the election and later in parliament; he has been able to combine fire with water – the liberal bourgeois with the old Prussian nobility – in order to create today’s government bloc. At the same time, he did not succeed in reducing the number of Catholic deputies, i.e. he did not kill the beast he was apparently hunting, but was still able to win over liberal malcontents to government policies and also inflicted a horrible defeat on socialists who lost half their seats.

The government bloc has a majority both in the Prussian Landtag and in the Reichstag. However, it shows more and more cracks, since the marriage between fire and water is too difficult to last long. Prince von Bülow is an extremely skilful parliamentary tactician and has managed to have anti-Polish bills passed in both parliaments. However, in the process he encountered difficulties that he probably did not expect, and he also failed to ignite the national enthusiasm which he counted on.

The German conscience struggled with bills that were incompatible with all principles of the modern legal order. Even worse, the Prussian junkers became terrified, probably for the first time in their lives, of the state’s omnipotence; in its nationalist frenzy, the German state took away the protection that private property enjoyed and thus became socialist itself in its fight against socialism. The bills had to be trimmed down in order to be passed and all Prussian aristocrats were against them; the city of Berlin protested against the excessive submissiveness of its freethinking deputies and elected socialists to the Prussian Landtag for the first time.

Given such circumstances, it is not surprising that reigniting the cultural struggle against the Catholic Church has been put on a back burner. There have even been rumours that the government, unsure whether the current bloc would survive, secretly extended its hand towards the Catholic centre, and that Chancellor von Bülow made a shy proposal to the Catholics but was turned down. There is no way of knowing whether these rumours are true, but it is certain that the Reich’s government wants to demand a huge increase in taxes from the parliament to cover the deficit caused by its struggle against England, i.e. the artificial support for German exports and Hanseatic shipping and also its huge armaments at sea. Parliamentary coalitions that were much less unnatural than today’s government bloc in Germany have disintegrated completely when it was demanded of them to reach deeper into their voters’ pockets. If the bloc resists this trial by fire, this will only postpone the inevitable outcome, since even more money will be required quite soon, and in incomparably worse circumstances unless the imperial government decides not to fight England anymore or else decides to resort to violence, which will bring about a horrible historical outcome. In all likelihood, the system inaugurated by Chancellor von Bülow will not operate for long and after its collapse, the situation in Germany will become extremely complicated, allowing the Poles to make arrangements if not with the government, then with individual parties in both Germany and Prussia.

Support for the opposition has always been strong throughout Poland, and even in times of the Commonwealth, it used to be the strongest in Greater Poland. After the partitions, opposition of all hues gained even more support, and the Poles grew accustomed to siding with those who fought the existing order. Actions by the Prussian government could only heighten these tendencies among Poles, and since socialists have always voted against anti-Polish bills in Berlin, some of the Poles under the Prussian rule are ready to support the socialist party, but reason should prevent them from acting on this reflex.

Socialists are a powerful opposition party, but they will not have any influence on the government either in Germany or in Prussia unless there is a catastrophe that leads to a complete upheaval – in short, a revolution. And in the highly unlikely event of a revolution in Germany, socialists will not be able to remain in government even if they can hold on to power temporarily. This is what the history of revolutions all over the world teaches us. This has been confirmed by the recent history of the Russian revolution and will soon be confirmed by the further course of the Turkish one. Indeed, the shock occasioned by a coup lifts the extreme parties, but it causes them to lose their balance at the same time. They become more extreme than they intended to, which triggers a reaction against them and makes their allies hateful to the public, and in Germany a reaction against socialist rule would come very soon. As long as the socialists remain in opposition, they are of virtually no use to the Poles and if they manage to entangle the Poles in any revolutionary activities, this will end in a horrible tragedy for the latter. Any Polish alliance with socialists would only have one effect, making all important parties in Germany hostile towards the Poles and amplifying Germanic hatred for the Slavs just as the Poles’ unfortunate participation in establishing the Paris Commune deprived us for decades of the French sympathies that we used to enjoy.

There is no way of forging an alliance with the national liberals as a party; at most, we can sometimes arrive at an understanding with the nobler individuals in this party. The freethinkers are losing ground, they are doomed and it is said that nothing will resurrect them again. Thus two parties remain that the Poles in Prussia will have to reckon with: the centre and conservatives. It is much easier to arrive at an agreement with the centre; the things we have in common with German Catholics are our faith and democratic principles. We should learn political tactics and organisational skills from the German centre so that we can nurture and strengthen our national feelings and enable the Polish element, which is now fragmented, to maintain its national identity; we should also make masses nationally aware without challenging our opponents and without resorting to agitation, which must necessarily end in defeat like the school children’s protest and thus may cause us to lose hope. From the centre, we can learn that it is usually necessary to be silent about our direct goals and that the hated minority should always refrain from bragging about the victories it has achieved; finally, we can learn that one who makes threats while being weaker than his opponents is not only ridiculous, but also brings about a defeat for his own side. The centre is strong and has lots of influence both in Berlin and in Rome, but it is not the ruling party and does not ultimately decide any matters.

Prussian conservatives have usually been our enemies to date. The law on expropriation was the first occasion when they noticed that the system aimed at denationalising the Poles may lead to consequences that undermine the social order. As long as Prussia remains Prussia, it is they who will exert the greatest influence on the government, and if Prussia is finally dissolved in Germany as a whole, they will share this influence primarily with Catholic democrats. Thus those who would like not just to agitate, but also to pursue practical Polish policies in Prussia, will have to talk both to them and to the centre. If the increasingly harsh persecution of the Polish nationality is to come to an end, the Poles who live under the Prussian rule need to engage in certain tasks. Firstly, they need diplomats who will establish contacts with the parties in parliament and with the government; Polish deputies to the parliament must play this role, and other workers will be needed as well in the country. I would prescribe this course of action to Poles in all places where they are a minority in the state and in parliament. The diplomats’ job is to look for friends, establish relationships and try to reverse the defeats suffered to date, seeking national and economic benefits; the other workers, who will be active in the country, are supposed to be protected by them. People must no longer be condemned for seeking practical solutions in Berlin that are aimed at ameliorating their nation’s position and at working for the national good; their warnings based on knowledge of the parliament and of the government must be heeded even in internal work.

If the Polish society under the Prussian rule chooses this road, it may manage to avoid many a blow that its enemies intend to deal it; it may make anti-Polish laws milder and even cause some of them to be kept in the government’s armoury, never actually to be used; as concerns tangible benefits, it may obtain some legislative relief. At this moment, nothing more can be done. But such achievements should not be scorned, and the ceasefire won in this manner should be used not for provocation and agitation, but rather for diligent work aimed at nurturing national awareness, increasing prosperity and improving the Polish education. The Poles’ first task (not only in the Poznań district, in Prussia or in Silesia) is to persevere, to survive and to wait until international morality matures sufficiently so that no nation will want to extinguish another nation any more; this moment will certainly come sooner or later. In England, the national conscience has evolved so much in the last sixty years that even the fiercest English nationalists speak of the responsibilities that Britain has taken upon it by incorporating foreign nations into its empire; the victory won in South Africa, which was paid for by immense sacrifice in terms of both life and property, was used to grant the vanquished Boers complete autonomy in order to make them loyal to the empire.

Conscience and reason will sooner or later win in Germany as well and the Poles’ task is to accelerate rather than postpone this development by refraining from irritating the German nation but instead persuading the nobler Germans to become worthy of their high civilisation of which they boast.


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